Children’s exposure to junk food and alcohol television adverts plummets

Children are being exposed to decreasing numbers of age-restricted products such as junk food and alcohol, new figures have revealed – but campaigners have warned that “harmful” ads are moving online.

Children's exposure to 'harmful' TV ads plummets. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

A report found that while youngsters see an average of 161.2 television ads every week, just one is for alcohol and under three are related to gambling. Meanwhile, they are exposed to only 9.6 ads a week for products high in fat, salt and sugar, according to the latest data from 2017 - although this includes items such as olive oil, butter and cheese which is likely to have minimal appeal, according to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

However health campaigners warned that children’s TV viewing habits are shifting from live TV to broadcasts online - where they said they could still be exposed to unsuitable marketing.

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The ASA said it would investigate online ad exposure later this year. New regulations which came into force last year rules that ads that directly or indirectly promote products high in fat, salt or sugar cannot appear in any media aimed at children under 16, or where children under 16 make up at least 25 per cent of the audience.

Caroline Cerny, spokeswoman for the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “What these new figures in fact reveal is that children’s media habits have changed, with time increasingly spent not just in front of the TV but online. And where the audiences go, so too do the advertisers.

“However, exposure to harmful advertising on TV still remains a problem. Children’s TV viewing peaks around early evening time, when we know they can see as many as nine junk food adverts during one 30 minute episode of their favourite programme.”

She added: “Evidence shows that seeing just four minutes of junk food advert leads children to eat an extra 60 calories, equivalent to a small biscuit. These extra calories all add up, contributing to weight gain.”

The study shows that children’s exposure to television ads for alcohol has decreased by 62.5 per cent since 2013 while the number of gambling ads they see is down 37.3 per cent. The majority of TV ads for gambling that children have seen since 2011 are for bingo, lottery and scratchcards.

Children’s exposure to all TV ads peaked in 2013 at 229.3 ads per week and has fallen by 29.7 per cent since then

Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, said: “Protecting children has always been at the heart of our regulation. These findings show that in recent years, children’s exposure to TV ads for alcohol, gambling and food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar is declining.”